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Turning Over a New Leaf

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Remember fall? The season of cooling and color? Jazz up your annual leaf-peeping trip by eschewing old faves like New England and Skyline Drive in favor of spots a bit farther afield. Here are three other places with their own arboreal fireworks -- minus the crowds. Already have plans? Around Labor Day, the U.S. Forest Service plans to revive its Fall Color Hotline (800-354-4595), promising updates on peak color in every region of the country.

-- Margaret Roth

Denali National Park, Alaska

PERFECT FOR: Leaf-peepers who want to get waaay beyond the Blue Ridge Parkway and who want their wildlife big -- like moose, grizzlies and wolves.

WHAT'S THERE: Besides Mount McKinley, at 20,320 feet the highest peak in North America, Denali's 6 million acres offer a different sort of fall landscape, with color not only in the birch, poplar, aspen and spruce but also on the rolling tundra, whose vegetation turns rich shades of red and purple.

PEAK COLOR: Early to mid-September

GETTING THERE: The cheapest flights in mid-September are to Anchorage, 240 miles south of park headquarters: $505 from Reagan National on America West. Fairbanks is closer -- 125 miles north of the park -- but airfares start at $782.

WHERE TO STAY: Most lodgings close by Sept. 17. Denali Park Resorts has a $139-per-night promotional rate at its lodges, subject to availability, for rooms booked between now and Sept. 17. Try the Grande Denali Lodge , where a double normally runs $229; the company's other park properties include Glacier Bay Lodge, McKinley Chalet Resort and McKinley Village Lodge. Outside the park, try White Moose Lodge in Healy (800-481-1232, http://www.whitemooselodge.com/ ), open till Sept. 21. It's 11 miles from Denali's entrance; a double runs $75.

DON'T MISS: The aurora borealis . The longer nights (10-12 hours) allow you to see the northern lights.

INFO: Denali National Park (907-683-2294, http://www.nps.gov/dena ). Denali Park Resorts (800-276-7234, http://www.denaliparkresorts.com/ ).

Salida, Colo.

PERFECT FOR: Those who want to see the golden-yellow aspen of the Rocky Mountains without having to trek hours from a major airport.

WHAT'S THERE: The Arkansas River Valley in south-central Colorado, a gateway to the Rockies, is full of old railroad and ranching towns given over to relaxing, recreation and the arts.

PEAK COLOR: Late September

GETTING THERE: Flights to Denver, a 3 1/2 -hour drive, are less expensive, from $182 (on Northwest from Dulles). Colorado Springs is an hour closer to Salida, but flights are more expensive, starting at $275 (on Northwest from Reagan National).

WHERE TO STAY: The six-room River Run Inn (800-385-6925, http://www.riverruninn.com/ ), just outside Salida, was built on a former 1892 working farm for the indigent and has views of the Rockies and the Arkansas River. Doubles run $100 to $125 per night, including breakfast. Add wine, cheese or chocolate, and flowers for $50. Salida also has more than a dozen motels; see http://www.coloradoheadwaters.com/ .

DON'T MISS: The Collegiate Peaks . Between the 14,000-foot Princeton and Yale mountains lies one of Colorado's most aspen-filled valleys.

INFO: Colorado's Headwaters of Adventure ( http://www.coloradoheadwaters.com/ ). Heart of the Rockies Chamber of Commerce (877-772-5432, http://www.salidachamber.org/ ). Colorado.com ( http://www.colorado.com/ ).

Ozark, Ark.

PERFECT FOR: Crowd dodgers; anyone who likes their foliage more low-key, especially late in the season.

WHAT'S THERE: With the Ozark National Forest about 10 miles to the north, the Ouachita National Forest 45 miles to the south, and the Arkansas River running alongside it, Ozark (population 3,525) is an ideal place to park.

PEAK COLOR: Late October

GETTING THERE: Little Rock, about 140 miles to the east of Ozark via Interstate 40, is served by at least four carriers. Flights start at $240 (US Airways from BWI).

WHERE TO STAY: Mulberry River Mountain Ranch , formerly Spirit Mountain Lodge (on Highway 23, 866-667-1919, http://www.spiritmountainlodge.com/ ), 16 miles north of Ozark, is surrounded by the Ozark National Forest. The ranch has seven cabins, all but one with a kitchen, and an eight-bedroom lodge for rent. Cabins run from $95 to $120; the lodge starts at $375. Weekends generally require a two-night minimum.

DON'T MISS: Frontier Fest , Oct. 22-23 at Fort Smith National Historic Site (479-783-3961, http://www.nps.gov/fosm ), is a free event harking back to the tumultuous period of westward expansion, with reenactments, storytelling and demonstrations of Native American culture. The free Downtown Fall Festival & Chili Cookoff on Oct. 29 in Russellville, about 60 miles east of Ozark, is an old-fashioned street festival with entertainment, games and lots to eat. Details: 479-967-1437, http://www.discoverrussellville.org/ .

INFO: Tri-Peaks Tourist Association (800-561-6508, http://www.arvtripeaks.com/ ). City of Ozark ( http://www.ozarkarkansas.com/ ).

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